Madras Music Season is an exciting six-week period of Carnatic music concert festivals held in the Chennai area that may make up one of the world’s biggest musical and cultural events. Let’s look at some information about visiting Chennai during this exciting festival season.
The peak time to go is the last two weeks in December. This is when many venues, such as the Madras Music Academy, host kutcheris (concerts), workshops and other events to do with classical Carnatic music. If you can’t go during those specific weeks — a peak travel time worldwide — then you can also schedule your trip any time after Diwali, which is when the area begins an uptick in scheduling for singing and dancing performances. In fact, there are usually thousands of concerts in the final months of the year.
Chennai offers a variety of accommodations that will suit any budget; however to see the concerts with minimal fuss, you’ll want to get a hotel in the city centre. This way, you’ll be able to get to any of the concert venues and sightsee in the rest of the city between performances. Some popular areas to stay in Chennai are located near Marina Beach. This makes area sightseeing and people-watching easy whether taking in a concert or not. Find out more about the best Chennai hotels right here.
Getting tickets to many of the performances at music festivals during Madras Music Season is a snap —most of the concerts performed in the daytime are performed free of charge and are open to the public. However, to see some of the bigger names, you’ll need to buy a ticket. Many of the performance halls will allow you to purchase season tickets so that you can see any of the performances held there. Or, if you’d like to see just one concert, you can buy your ticket the morning of the event. To see the top-billed concerts hosted by the Madras Music Academy, you’ll need to be quick — season tickets for this venue are known to sell out quickly.
If budget is a concern, try the concerts held at the Bharathi Vidya Bhavan, where you’ll find free concerts throughout the season.
What to See
Never seen Carnatic music performed live before? The workshops at the Madras Music Academy will probably go into more detail than novice audiences are prepared for, but it’s at the academy’s more than 80 performances each year that you’ll find the best, most venerated musicians making music. However, if you’re not able to schedule your trip to coincide with the academy’s performances, then you should look to newspaper listings, social media alerts and online schedules to help you.
Be on the lookout for other music- and culture-related events to take in while you are in Chennai. For example, there are usually some documentary films about music or musicians that are being shown, lecture-demonstrations (called lec-dems) in which you will learn more than you realize about this Indian classical art form. And, if you enjoy the music and love watching dance performances, the first weeks of January usually also feature shows of movement art.
History of the Festival
The Madras Music Festival has been around since 1927 when early organisers thought a festival of Carnatic performances would be a fun and meaningful way to commemorate the founding of the Madras Music Academy. However, what started as a relatively small event has blossomed into a huge, loose network of dance, music and fun, hosted by various governments and organisations that often own performance halls throughout the city.
In fact, even though the festival season started out as being solely focused on Carnatic music, you can also find performances of other kinds of music as well as dance and other art exhibitions during this time. This makes it truly a cultural festival season — not only a music festival season.
Image by Ravages from Flickr’s Creative Commons
About the Author: Sangeeta Margam is a writer from New Delhi who seeks out interesting festivals throughout India.